Restoring the tailrace
tailrace? When we
first started looking at the mill the waterwheel stood in a muddy pit
that had a single six inch drain pipe stopping it from filling with
The pipe is visible at the bottom of the
picture. The waterway had been completely filled in.
next few months went something like this...
we were going to have to clear out the infill and restore the race
to its original capacity. Without this we might as well give
up on the entire restoration.
infill was terrible stuff to dig out; soil mixed with old bricks,
bottles, fertilizer sacks and general rubbish. A few phone
and we managed to borrow a small JCB and we soon had this hard at work.
went well for a couple of working days. The sun shone, the
weather was dry and the JCB worked as well as its driver knew how to
make it. Using the levers to control the digging bucket effectively is
not quite as intuitive as it might appear to viewers of Time Team!
real problem with the digger was simply that it wasn’t big
being a bit more precise, it wouldn’t reach down far enough.
the 29th of the month we had gone as deep as we could with the digger
and it was obvious that we were going to have to dig the last bit by
We had cut a narrow channel through to the
wall of the brick
culvert so that the wheel pit was draining but there was still a lot of
spoil to shift.
The only answer was a bucket chain.
On the 31st
we set to work with a will and in the course of the day we moved an
estimated one and a half tons (or tonnes) of wet clay soil from the
bottom of the hole.
picture was taken by a visitor and includes one of the very few images
of the webmaster. From the left and going clockwise we have Martyn,
Max, John D, Colin, John N and Richard.
side of the tailrace
reasonably well preserved but the facing wall was conspicuous by its
absence. We think that it was the collapse of this side that led to the
tailrace being filled in, probably in the 1960’s judging by
the age of
the rubbish in the infill.
At this stage we were
with ourselves, but what we had really got was a very large, very wet
hole in the ground. We had extended the waterwheel pit as far as the
side of the culvert that takes the mill stream past the mill and on
into the farmyard. The next bit was going to be tricky.
back at the notes for early September it seems as though the
restoration of the tailrace had hit a wall. In fact that is more or
less what had happened.
The culvert that carries the
the mill pool under the return road and between the mill and the barns
is a brick structure with barrel vaulting.
digging out the tailrace
we had uncovered the side of this culvert and to our amateur eyes it
looked a little shaky.
At some time there had been a
support embedded in the side of the culvert as a lintel for the
tailrace opening but time and the damp environment had reduced this to
a few flakes of rust. While we pondered how to open up the side of the
culvert without the vaulting collapsing into the stream we got on with
rebuilding the sides of the race.
We had already
decided that we
would have to bridge over the race, but
at least that meant we did not
have to be too authentic in our building methods.
go up much
faster with new concrete blocks than they do if you build with
hand-cleaned recovered bricks.
As with everything we
with the mill, we have received a great deal of help, support and
advice from professionals.
We still had the
problem of holding up the
culvert while we broke through the side and the advice was
needles, it’ll be OK” We believed them, of course,
but by the end of
September we had not put the advice to the test.
concentrated on other jobs for the first part of the month but on the
12th we finally bit the bullet and knocked holes through the side of
the culvert and inserted short lengths of scaffold pole, needles,
supported on short trench jacks.
meant that we could
now knock down the remaining brickwork separating the tail race from
the culvert but not until we had installed a new lintel to replace the
By the 17th we had acquired a suitable
lintel and were all ready to go. The lintel was eased into place and
left for the mortar to set. A week later we were able to remove the
needles and fully open the tailrace through to the culvert.
the first time we had a good idea of water levels around the waterwheel
and in the stream.
Actually they are a bit higher
than we would like
because we are sure that the wheel would be more efficient if it was
clear of the water but John Stinton has checked out the levels for us
and the water level when the wheel was first installed cannot have been
very different to where it is now.
notes start to tell of icicles and cold weather so it is not surprising
enthusiasm for paddling in the mud at the bottom of the tailrace
was low. Even so we had placed more lintels over the race and
reinforced them with steel mesh and poured concrete by the 14th.
had already decided that we would build an arch over the entrance to
the tunnel we had just formed and after a fair amount of discussion we
got on with it. Dave Lowe made the form-work and Martyn and Derek laid
the bricks. By the end of the month the arch was complete and the wall
that retains the alleyway was well on its way.
wall is built
with recovered bricks on the outside, but the real load bearing part of
the wall is built with concrete block work.
first week in December saw the backfilling of the hole over the
tailrace. The weather was less than good, cold
and wet in fact, but the
end of a major task was now well in site. As it turned out we put the
finishing touches to the retaining wall on the last working day before
This was a significant part of the
restoration of the
watermill as without an open tailrace we could never have a working
Apart from the archway at the bottom of
there is very little visual difference to this area of the mill to the
way it looked before we started, but it really did take a lot of effort
to get it to this state.
Now we know the water will
flow away we can get on with restoring the waterwheel.
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